Asset productivity is a top challenge facing the mining sector today, driven by increased pressure to move more material at a lower cost per ton, all while continually working to lower personnel safety risk.
In response, mines are looking toward digital technologies that can make their operations increasingly data driven, with applications that enable them to better understand and predict asset health and performance, automate operations to lower employee exposure, proactively identify areas to reduce costs, and ultimately reach new levels of productivity.
While it is true that data will become the lifeblood of successful mines, equally as vital will be the network over which this data is delivered. When every second counts and every insight is of value to improving production yields, the network must enable instant access to real-time voice, video, and data without fail, dropped packets, or high latency. Importantly, it must uphold these mission-critical requirements in an environment that is rugged and ever-changing, supporting continuous connectivity to people and assets that are constantly in motion across the mine.
This article explores key digital innovations now available for mines to leverage in increasing asset productivity, and the requirements of a network to support these next-gen applications
Unlocking fleet performance through real-time digital insights
The explosion of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has unleashed mines’ ability to track virtually any aspect of a machine’s operations. Equipment fleets can be equipped with sensors and wireless technology to stream real-time data on their health and performance back to the command center. From the machine’s current location to its current tire pressure, operators can gain full visibility into the health status and performance of every asset, and be armed with the insights needed to keep fleets fully optimized.
With real-time asset monitoring, mines can:
- Predict maintenance needs before failure: diagnostic data on the state and performance of equipment can be transmitted remotely and then paired with analytics to anticipate failures and output recommended maintenance schedules or corrective action to reduce downtime.
- Decrease performance variability: By comparing data from assets with high performance to those with lesser yields, operators can better identify root causes of operational issues and rapidly standardize all machines against those with the greatest output.
- Maximize efficiency of machine movements: Applying analytical engines to the real-time data collected, operators can identify scheduling and processing approaches to maximize equipment utilization and improve yield by as much as 3 to 10% in just months.
The network challenge—reliably connecting dispersed, diverse moving assets
To realize the full value of a fully connected fleet, mining operations need both a network with readily scalable bandwidth, and the ability to support unwavering mobile connectivity. As mentioned, the amount of sensors and related devices used to monitor equipment health and fleet performance is continuing to grow, along with the number of assets in the fleets themselves. Many of these sensor-based applications are bandwidth-intensive and demand low latency so that data can be rapidly delivered to command centers for real-time evaluation. As more monitoring applications are added to the network, there is more potential for performance to get bogged down; but gaps in data equate to gaps in knowledge, so dropped packets and failed deliveries are not acceptable.
Compounding this challenge is the fact that the network must enable real-time data collection from a variety of equipment that is broadly dispersed across the mining environment. Many of these assets are continuously moving, and need to maintain unwavering mobile connectivity in order to reliably deliver insights on their performance and health.
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